New Ouigo routes, airport rail link closed: 8 French travel updates

Our weekly wrap of transport news in France

Our weekly wrap of France's main travel stories
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1. Anger after Bordeaux-Dubrovnik passengers arrive in Croatia nearly two days late

It is a flight that should take around two-and-a-half or three hours.

But a combination of bad weather and mismanagement caused some passengers on a Bordeaux-Dubrovnik flight to arrive nearly two days later than planned.

The budget Spanish airline Volotea was originally scheduled to take 175 passengers between the two cities on July 22.

But violent thunderstorms forced the plane to land near Bari in Italy, on the side of the Adriatic Sea from Dubrovnik.

The airline put holidaymakers in a hotel for the night after the plane was left on the tarmac for one hour and a half.

The next day, a flight taking people to Croatia was promised, but a number of issues meant it took until 23:00 for people to start boarding the replacement.

The plane that arrived, however, was too small, leaving 10 passengers of the original 175 stranded an extra night in Italy.

Passengers lucky enough to board the first plane arrived in Croatia 28 hours after expected.

The unlucky passengers left in Italy were offered a flight to Dubrovnik via Switzerland on Monday morning by the airline.

Those who took up the offer finally arrived in Croatia 40 hours after leaving Bordeaux.

Some of the remaining passengers refused, however, claiming they felt “wronged” and “neglected”, deciding to make their own way to the city.

The airline has promised to refund all expenses incurred by passengers.

Read also: Why have dozens of flights been rerouted away from Nantes airport?

2. Lyon aims to become a night train hub

Lyon is looking to play a key role in the expansion of France’s night train network, becoming a hub for east-west overnight services.

After relaunching night trains in 2021, the government announced they wanted at least a dozen overnight lines by 2030 across all of France.

Whilst a number of routes have been reincorporated into the network, they almost all exclusively run between Paris towards southern destinations such as Nice, Tarbes and Bayonne.

Lyon, however, wants to “put itself back on the map,” for overnight trains, said its mayor Grégory Doucet, and President of the Lyon Metropole, Bruno Bernard.

“We are asking the Minister for Transport [to use Lyon as a hub]. Two westbound lines must be reinstated in the 2030 plan,” they added.

The lines in question would be services between Lyon and Bordeaux, as well as a route starting in Switzerland that would pass through Lyon before reaching Brittany.

The city’s politicians said the government must stop focusing only on “vertical” night train services, and opening up east-west links would help “preserve France’s climate,” by providing domestic airline passengers with an alternative.

After the government's original announcement to improve night train services, a group called Oui au train de nuit (Yes to night trains) was formed.

They called for “six hundred night train carriages to relaunch thirty lines,” and originally supported the government, but have become disillusioned with the lack of investment into services.

They say the government has wildly reduced its ambitions and is “putting off investment year after year.”

“Faced with the challenges of climate change and energy, we need to step up our ambitions and speed things up,” they said in a petition to improve services, which racked up more than 34,000 signatures.

Read also: Border changes, ferry discount, ghost station: 8 French travel updates

3. More low-speed Ouigo trains set to launch

After the successful launch of ‘low-speed low-cost’ Ouigo trains earlier this year, France’s state-owned railway operator SNCF is looking to add three new lines.

So far, two services run between Paris and the cities of Lyon and Nantes and are managed by Ouigo, the low-cost arm of the SNCF.

The services have much longer journey times. It takes almost five hours - as opposed to around two hours on a TGV service - between Paris and Lyon on the slow train.

Tickets, however, are much more affordable than their high-speed counterparts, and prices are often fixed, meaning they will not fluctuate according to demand.

A seat between Lyon and Paris currently costs only €29 on the service, even for those without an SNCF discount card.

“It's great for people who don't necessarily have the means [to take the high-speed train],” said one passenger arriving in Paris after taking the service.

The successful rollout of the service means Ouigo is looking to launch three more services by the end of 2024, running between the capital and Bordeaux, Rennes, and Brussels.

Tickets on these future routes will also be fixed, varying between €10 and €49 for a return ticket depending on the final destination.

They lack the mod-cons of their TGV counterparts, but SNCF believes lower prices compensate for this.

Read also: Pet travel: Can I take my dog or cat with me on a train in France?

4. Paris transport workers threaten strike during Rugby World Cup in France

Workers on Paris’ public transport system have filed a strike request for dates covering September 4 – October 28.

These dates correspond to the entire length of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.

FO-RATP, the second biggest union representing workers on Paris’ public transport network, said it is seeking better compensation for those working in stations on match nights during the tournament.

Whilst drivers will receive a flat €330 bonus for working during the tournament, and may receive additional bonuses on top of this for each shift worked, the FO-RATP said “nine out of ten” workers inside stations will receive no extra bonus during the event.

This is despite them having to deal directly with the influx of visitors, travelling between Stade de France and the rest of Paris on match nights.

France’s transport minister, Clément Beaune, has called for the unions to act “with responsibility” regarding the strike, which could seriously hamper the city’s efforts to host the sporting extravaganza.

Paris is set to be the site of numerous fixtures during the tournament, including the opening match on September 8, as well as both semi-finals, third-place play-off, and the tournament’s final.

Read also: Unveiling the history of rugby in La Rochelle

5. Luggage storage facilities boosted at French stations

Luggage storage facilities for train travellers in France have been boosted.

All in all, you will be able to leave your bag at locations nearby to 30 stations across the country.

In some larger stations (Marseille Saint-Charles, Bordeaux Saint-Jean, Lyon Part-Dieu, or Paris Gare de Lyon), on-site lockers still exist and will be used for the scheme.

In other stations (Paris Saint-Lazare, Metz, Nice, La Rochelle, Grenoble, etc) France’s state-owned rail operator SNCF has teamed up with luggage storage start-up Nannybag. That will see luggage stored at approved nearby locations less than ten minutes away on foot.

In cities where in-station locker rooms disappeared, a number of nearby hotels and cafés began offering storage holding facilities.

Unlike with SNCF, however, these bags are usually not scanned when deposited.

Luggage storage reservations must be made online before arriving at the station, with the number of bags and days paid for in advance.

It follows supermarket Franprix unveiling a similar luggage storage scheme earlier this year in a number of locations across France.

You can find a full list of participating stations here.

6. Weather-based flight delays more than double

There were two and half times more flights delayed by weather in July 2023 compared to the same month last year, according to Eurocontrol.

The delays were caused primarily by stormy weather throughout the month, which affected much of Europe.

The three airports seeing the largest delays were Frankfurt, London Gatwick, and Munich, although Austrian and Serbian airports were also heavily affected.

Even when factoring in weather-based delays, however, flights in July 2023 were slightly more punctual than in 2022, with a small reduction in the overall amount of time flights are delayed by.

July 2023 recorded a 7% increase in air traffic compared to the previous month in Europe, recording more than one million flight passengers for the first time since September 2019.

In some European countries (in southern and southeastern Europe), figures have even returned to peak levels recorded in July 2019.

Read also: French train delays last year ‘among the worst seen in a decade’

7. Rail link between Paris and Charles-de-Gaulle airport closed for three days

The RER B rail line will be closed in both directions between Paris Gare du Nord and Aulnay-sous-Bois stations this weekend and at the beginning of next week (August 12 – 14) due to modernisation works.

It means the direct rail link between Charles de Gaulle airport and Paris’ city centre will be closed for those going to, or coming from, France’s busiest airport.

It is the first time the line has been closed on a working day, which the transport authorities said gives the work an “exceptional character”.

To compensate, between 600 buses and 1,000 extra bus drivers will be mobilised to “reinforce” existing bus routes between the affected RER stations and provide a replacement bus service.

Carpooling in the area will also be free on the affected days – but only for residents who live in Île-de-France and not those exclusively travelling to and from the airport.

Transport authorities and local politicians have called on people to cancel travel plans, where possible, along the route.

“We can have up to 200,000 travellers taking this line [on a usual working day],” said regional prefect Marc Guillaume.

"However, circulating 200,000 passengers by substitute bus is not possible,” he added.

Read also: Tax on airline tickets to rise in France to fund train investments

8. You will soon be able to spread the cost of some rail tickets in France

Train ticket payments via the SNCF will soon be spreadable across three payments, providing the cost of the tickets is more than €150.

The state-owned rail operator has partnered with split payment specialist Alma, with users diverted to the company’s website if choosing the option to split their payments into three instalments.

The rail operator said it introduced the option to help passengers better deal with the rising cost of using trains, with the rail tax set to increase by 8% before the start of 2024.

Those opting to use the system will pay one instalment, followed by a second shortly afterwards, before being able to pay the third and final instalment within sixty days of the original purchase.

You will need to use a bank card with at least three months of validity to pay in instalments, and can only use it for purchases up to €999.

All main national train service tickets (TGV INOUI, OUIGO, INTERCITES, TER) are eligible for split payments, as well as Thalys, Lyria, and Eurostar international tickets.

You can also purchase Flixbus and BlaBlaCar Bus tickets in instalments through the SNCF, providing they reach the €150 threshold.

Read more: The new rules for train ticket reimbursement over delays in France